Most Things in Life Can Wait

Allison Burney

The world won’t end if you don’t respond immediately

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How often in life have you thought something was urgent, only to realize later that you were seriously misguided?

How often have you rushed to respond to someone, because you thought that was the right thing to do, or because you thought it was what they wanted or expected?

I realize now that for most of my life, I’ve believed that it’s extremely important to respond to things in a timely manner.

In our “instant everything” culture, instant responses have become the gold standard for which we should all strive. Businesses pride themselves on providing their customers with lightning-fast replies and service. Our friends and family judge us on how “good” (i.e. fast) we are at replying to them.

Facebook measures how quickly you respond to a message, and gives you a percentage rating based on your performance. The ultimate goal, of course, is a 100% response rate, and the faster that reply is delivered, the better. Then they can let your potential clients know how quickly they can expect a response from you.

Yes, this phenomenon makes sense in some ways. We all want things to happen quickly. Nobody likes waiting for anything these days. We like efficiency, speed, effectiveness, and instant gratification.

But is all this really necessary?

I can’t help but wonder if this drive for “instant” everything is actually doing more harm than good.

Within this system, the people glued to their phones/devices are considered “the best.” They’re given a gold star, while those who take their time in responding are seen as less favourable. People have been trained to appreciate a quick reply, and become irritated by a slow one.

We even go so far as to put labels on people according to their response habits. Those that respond quickly are seen as “reliable” and “respectable,” while those who don’t are “irresponsible” and “selfish.”

I’ve seen this play out among my own family dynamics time after time. Someone has certain beliefs about what good communication is, and therefore expects others in their family to “live up to” those expectations. The other person, however, has different ideas, and these differing opinions become a constant source of tension and aggravation.

But isn’t this taking it a little too far? Don’t we all have the right to use (or not use) our devices how we see fit? Why should we have to use them the way other people want us to?

And more importantly, why are we using someone’s phone habits to assess their character? Isn’t there a deeper problem here?

At the beginning of this week, I shifted my priorities to focus on doing the things that were important to me before I did things that were important to others.

For me, that looked like putting my personal creative pursuits (writing) ahead of answering work emails/texts first thing in the morning.

I’ve been leaving my phone in another room until after lunch, so that I can focus my energy on writing. And after only three days of this new routine, I noticed that the sky hadn’t fallen down around me. There were no fires that needed to be put out as a result of detaching my phone from my body.

In fact, some days I didn’t even have any calls, emails, or texts to respond to by the time I checked my phone after noon, and if I did, they certainly weren’t urgent!

This led to a few realizations:

  1. It’s me who’s been creating the urgency I’ve been feeling around work tasks.
  2. My thoughts about someone else’s expectations are not always accurate. (In fact, they’re almost never accurate! After all, they’re my thoughts — not the other person’s.)
  3. To my knowledge, my decision to get my writing time in hasn’t harmed anyone or had a negative effect on other people or the business I work for.
  4. No one seems to care about what I do with my mornings!

All this time, I’ve been putting everything other than what matters to me first, when it’s all been unnecessary.

Whether I answer someone’s event inquiry immediately or a few hours from now makes no difference to the end result; they’re still going to get the information. Whether I rush to complete the list of tasks my boss has outlined in record time this morning or do it this afternoon (or even tomorrow) usually makes no difference to her. As long as I get them done and do the job well, she is happy.

So why all the urgency?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about our work or about our relationships with the people in our lives, or that we shouldn’t give things our best efforts.

I just think we could all benefit from slowing things down.

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Freelance writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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